Developer Update #6 – The Campaign

This entry was supposed to be posted quite a while ago and look at the new enemy types, but they have been somewhat delayed due to both technical and health issues – so instead here’s a smaller update on the structure of the campaign!

Core Decay will launch as a singleplayer game with a semi-linear campaign. This keeps the project reasonably small in scope – although I would certainly love to expand upon the game with multiplayer capabilities post-release!

Levels in Core Decay

There are 11 levels planned for the initial release of the game. While I initially looked at procedurally generating level designs, I ultimately decided on a hand-crafted approach since it felt more in line with the old-school approach of the game and allows for more deliberate level design. To encourage replayability there is randomization in most other game elements, such as enemies and pickups encountered, the leveling system with randomized upgrades, and so on – but the levels themselves are static.

On the “Veteran” difficulty level, all randomized elements are completely disabled – for those who desire a fully old-school experience!

Level structure approaches

When deciding on how to actually structure up the levels, there were a few approaches to consider:

Linear
Levels follow each other in a completely linear fashion. Most older FPS games follow this pattern, and it has strong advantages in how it lets you ramp up difficulty and complexity in a well-designed manner, as well as progress the story naturally. It’s the worst of the approaches in replayability however and there is no player agency involved.

Locked branching
This approach has the campaign structured into phases, and within each phase the player can pick which level to play, locking the other choice out for that playthrough. This enhances replayability but means that twice as many levels have to be made for the same campaign length, and makes story progression more difficult.

Free branching
This is the same as the above, except unpicked levels are still played – the player simply gets the choice of which order to finish them within each phase.

Fully free
All the levels are accessible at once and the player can do them in any order. This offers the greatest player agency and replayability, but presents far more of a challenge in both storytelling and difficulty/complexity ramping.

The level structure in Core Decay

Ultimately I decided to go with a variant of the free branching approach. The campaign and its 11 levels are divided up into phases:

  • Phase 1: Consists of a single introductory level.
  • Phase 2: Consists of 4 levels which can be done in any order.
  • Phase 3: Consists of a single story-driven level.
  • Phase 4: Consists of 4 levels which can be done in any order.
  • Phase 5: Consists of the single final level.

Some in-level balancing also accounts for the fact that the player will be more powerful between levels as they gain equipment and level up – but the main jump in difficulty will be between phases.

The level select screen (work in progress, names obviously not final).

Since the levels themselves are set on facilities across Earth, levels are selected on a world map interface which also offers some opportunities for worldbuilding.

The narrative

Although there is a heavy story focus throughout the level, emphasis is still made to have this part subdued and mostly opt-in on account of the player. Those uninterested in the storyline will have an easy time not engaging with the vast majority of it.

For those who do wish the engage with the narrative, it is primarily conveyed through two parts – comlink conversations with a side character, and datalogs found throughout the levels. Some conversations – such as those between campaign phases – always appear, although are easy to skip through should the player desire. As for the story itself, I will cover this in a future dev update as much of it is still finalizing – but overall it will focus around themes of cybernetics, AI, human consciousness, corporatism and environmental decay. It’s pretty classic as far as dystopian sci-fi stories go, but should nonetheless prove somewhat interesting!

That’s all for now – the next dev update should hopefully be showing the new enemy types in greater detail!